42 days: ‘just in case’ rhetoric echoes anti-abortion tactics

// 11 June 2008

e-politix has a good (short) summation of today’s media coverage of tonight’s vote on whether to extend the pre-charge detention period from 28 (already the longest in Europe, see Liberty’s campaign) to 42 days. In reading the review, I was struck, yet again, by how much of the rhetoric on the proposals is fighting to sound rational, just like the anti-abortion calls last month were.

In this situation, the defenders of 42 days are working to an idea of ‘just in case’ to bolster their defence. For example, according to e-politix,

Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington said the police needed to have the power “in their back pocket” for exceptional circumstances.

Meanwhile Andrew Dismore, the chair of the joint committee on human rights,

has described the definition of a terrorist threat under which the power would be triggered as “extraordinarily broad”.

The BBC reported last week that Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary, has similarly stated that “safeguards would ensure it was used only in exceptional circumstances.”

The underlying argument is that:

  • the government can prove it is being suitably responsible about the proposals because
  • it is indicating that the powers would only be used in extreme cases
  • cases that are extreme need exceptional responses
  • we could all be at risk if these powers weren’t available for these extreme cases
  • we therefore need the powers to be available just in case the authorities face such an extreme case

The framing of the argument by the government as one of ‘necessary need in exceptional cases’ in this way echoes the anti-abortion tactics of last month. In that case, ‘science’ (or rather the idea of science) was used as a reasonableness test, masking an anti-women’s rights agenda. Now, the government is using ‘security need’ as the reasonableness test for justifying a breach of human rights.

As the pro-choice campaigners did, it is very important for human rights campaigners to be vigilant against a slippery slope. The 42 days proposals are problematic in and of themselves. Debates about the how of implementing them are not about rationality – they are a deliberate distraction.

Photo by stephentrepreneur, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 11 June 2008 at 5:58 pm

The government has cleverly used the scare tactic of ‘security’ in order to push through legislation which is in effect internment without trial. If this measure is passed I wonder how long it will be before the Government claims the time limit needs to be increased to 60 or 80 days. Using the terms ‘reasonable,’ rational approach and security need’ all mask the real intention which is the increasing denial of everyone’s human rights. Just as the anti-abortion lobby used science to hide its real agenda which was to deny women the right of ownership of their bodies, so too this Government is using ‘security’ to hide illegal imprisonment without trial.

zohra // Posted 11 June 2008 at 6:36 pm

bad news, govt’s won: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7449268.stm

Sunny // Posted 11 June 2008 at 10:58 pm

Jess, are we still opposing a Tory govt? :)

Jo // Posted 11 June 2008 at 11:07 pm

It’s the nonsense over and over. These paowers will only be used for severe threats – or so they claim. Like the ‘public order act’ that was only for riots. Didn’t stop the police from using it over and over to detain CND campaigners and similar over the years.

Jess // Posted 12 June 2008 at 12:38 pm

Sunny – well, I am!

I believe their opposition is more on the basis of political opportunism than real concern for civil rights.

Harpymarx // Posted 12 June 2008 at 4:28 pm

Of course the Tories are doing this out of opportuninism and political expediency. When have the Tories ever cared about civil liberties? I mean, look at the north of Ireland, the history and the Tories esp. under Thatcher. Shoot to kill, anyone?

The Tories are seeing what mileage they can gain and boost the vote for the impending brave dawn of a Cameron election victory… Oh Crap!

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds